by JONATHAN STRONG ROLL CALL STAFF FEB. 6, 2012, MIDNIGHT
House Appears to Have Reimbursed Congressman for Trips That Were Also Paid for by Other Groups
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Roll Call found evidence of Rep. Ron Paul being reimbursed twice for Congressional travel — once by taxpayers, once by other groups he controlled.
Rep. Ron Paul appears to have been paid twice for flights between Washington, D.C., and his Congressional district, receiving reimbursement from taxpayers and also from a network of political and nonprofit organizations he controlled, according to public records and documents obtained by Roll Call.
Roll Call identified eight flights for which the Texas Republican, a GOP presidential candidate and leading champion of smaller government, was reimbursed twice for the same trip. Roll Call also found dozens more instances of duplicate payments for travel from 1999 to 2009, totaling thousands of dollars’ worth of excess payments, but the evidence in those cases is not as complete.
Paul’s office vigorously denies that the Congressman ever intentionally received multiple reimbursements for the same trips.
Paul’s office declined to make the Congressman available for an interview.
Spokesman Jesse Benton said it was “possible that wholly inadvertent errors were made in a handful of instances” in which flights were reimbursed twice, but he maintained that “absolutely zero taxpayer funds were ever misused.”
Benton said those flights “may appear to show duplicative reimbursements because Congressman Paul’s wife or a campaign staffer traveled with him. In such instances, the U.S. House would reimburse Congressman Paul’s travel to D.C. for Congressional business, while his campaign or political action committee would reimburse his traveling companion’s ticket.” But Benton declined to discuss any of the trips in detail, arguing that the office does not have records for many of the years in question and that Roll Call was using “stolen” credit card records as the basis for the story.
The available records name Paul as the traveler in most cases. In other cases in which tickets were purchased for Paul’s wife, Carol, or for staffers, those tickets — identifiable by distinct prices, dates and flight paths — were reimbursed separately. In one case, Paul used a company credit card in his name to buy a ticket for his then-deputy chief of staff; Paul was then reimbursed by his Congressional office and also by his campaign.
Roll Call obtained copies of credit card statements for a corporate American Express card assigned to Ron Paul & Associates Inc. on which many flights were purchased. The flight details on those statements matched payment records filed to the Federal Election Commission and office expenses itemized in quarterly Congressional disbursement statements published by the Chief Administrative Officer of the House.
For example, on March 24, 2003, Paul purchased a round-trip flight from Washington, D.C., to Houston for $651.50. Several weeks later, filings with the FEC show, the Committee to Re-Elect Ron Paul paid $651.50 for the Continental Airlines ticket. Congressional expenditure records show Paul also was reimbursed $651.50 by taxpayers for the same flight.
Paul filed articles of dissolution for Ron Paul & Associates Inc. in 2001 with the Texas secretary of state, but the company’s corporate credit card was used for years afterward, the records show.
Benton suggested it was “possible” there could have been a second credit card Paul was using to book his official travel, but he offered no evidence to support that possibility.
The credit card statements reviewed by Roll Call include handwritten notations that indicate several organizations — Paul’s campaign, Liberty Political Action Committee (“Liberty PAC”), the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education and another nonprofit called the Liberty Committee — would pay for many of the flights.
Documents indicate those organizations sent checks to American Express for those items, while Paul received payments from the House for the same expenses.
Paul’s daughter, Lori Paul Pyeatt, was treasurer for the campaign, FREE and Liberty PAC. Liberty PAC’s website says its “goal … is to fund Congressman Ron Paul‘s political activities as he travels the country.”
Paul’s office declined Roll Call’s request to make Pyeatt available for an interview.
Like other businesses, Members of Congress submit receipts for expenses to the House of Representatives administrative office for reimbursement. A source familiar with the process said these receipts are reviewed by House auditors and routine errors are found and corrected, but the office has no capacity to investigate whether a PAC or other entity is reimbursing the same expenses.
In 2009, the House changed the way it reports expenditures for Congressional travel in the quarterly public disclosures, eliminating details of who in the office traveled and where they went, making it impossible to track double-payments.
Still, using older House records and the credit card statements, Roll Call has identified more than 25 flights, totaling about $15,000, for which the dates, costs, airline companies and flight paths closely match reimbursements made by the House and Paul’s other organizations.
Among the findings:
• On May 11, 2004, Paul’s credit card was used to purchase a $323.60 plane ticket for him from Houston to Reagan National Airport departing May 17. Ten days later, the House paid Paul $323.60 for a flight from Houston to Reagan National Airport departing May 17. On June 29, Paul’s campaign paid for the same flight, FEC filings show, along with a dinner at El Toro Mexican Restaurant and gasoline from a Texaco station in Houston — expenses listed on the same credit card statement as the flight.
• On Sept. 23, 2003, Paul’s card was used to buy a $646.50 round-trip plane ticket from D.C. to Houston, according to the credit card statements, which identify Paul as the passenger. About three weeks later, the House paid Paul $646.50 for the same flight. Ten days after that, his campaign paid for the ticket a second time, along with restaurant and gasoline purchases from the same credit card statement.
• In September 2000, Paul’s credit card was used to purchase three plane tickets on separate dates that were also reimbursed by both his campaign and by the House. Handwritten notes on the credit card statements indicate Paul’s campaign would pay for two of the tickets and Liberty PAC would pay for the other. FEC filings show Paul’s campaign paid for the first two tickets Oct. 26, 2000, and Liberty PAC paid for the third ticket Oct. 30. The credit card statements indicate Paul was a passenger for one of those flights; no passenger name is available for the other flights. Taxpayers also reimbursed Paul for all of those flights.
Public records show hundreds of flight payments between 1999 and 2009 in which both the House and Paul’s campaign paid for plane tickets of the same price and about the same date. Given the limitations of publicly reported data, in many of those cases it’s not possible to conclude that the matching flight payments represent duplicate reimbursements, because the possibility of an alternate traveler cannot be disproved. Paul has not been accused of wrongdoing by any authorities.
Roll Call provided Paul’s office with examples of double-billed flights more than a week ago, including the relevant information from the credit card statements, and provided additional examples over the ensuing days.
Benton said the office was unable to confirm travelers for any of the trips because “this stuff is so old, we don’t even have full records.”
Benton also argued “Roll Call did not provide Congressman Paul’s campaign with copies of the credit card receipts it relied on in writing this article. Those records, if authentic, apparently were stolen from Congressman Paul’s business office in Texas.
“Congressman Paul has taken many thousands of commercial flights between Houston and Washington, D.C., since returning to Congress in 1997. The particular flights Roll Call provided us as examples occurred between 1999 and 2005, well before the current time periods for which the FEC and IRS require records to be maintained.”
Paul’s presidential campaign is premised on his national reputation as a leading advocate for smaller government, built up over a career of crusading for spending cuts and personal liberty.
“The past century should have taught us one thing, that government intervention is expensive. Government programs lend themselves so easily to waste, fraud and abuse,” Paul said in 2009 remarks opposing President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Paul also has specifically advertised the Spartan spending habits in his Congressional office, boasting in press releases in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 about the amount of unused money he was returning to the Treasury from his budget for the previous year.
“Since my first year in Congress representing the 14th district I have managed my office in a frugal manner,” Paul said in a 2008 statement.
Paul Singer contributed to this report.